The Library is a Benedictine World of Prayer and Peace

There has always been a library at the Monastery of St. Gertrude and Sister Sue Ellen Drexler is the librarian.

“Throughout their history Benedictines have always been a part of literary endeavors,” she explains. In addition, Benedictines regard reading paired with silent contemplation or lectio as a form of prayer.

Sister Sue Ellen was first librarian from 1994 to 2000, in her early years of monastic profession. During that time she took classes in library science. Her second appointment as librarian began in 2015. In January 2016 she began working with consultant Sister Rebecca Abel of the Immaculate Conception Monastery in Ferdinand, Indiana, whose library experience extended as far as the American bishops’ seminary in Rome. Over the course of six weeks, they reduced the collection by a third.

The team also created a digital catalog of the collection which is now comprised of approximately 6,800 books. Sister Sue Ellen moved the classical section into a small room behind her office and rearranged the bookshelves in the main library to make it easier to move through the stacks. She also added signs to the shelves to help people better find materials.

Other changes over the course of the library’s history include less books in German (as Swiss sisters who could read German have passed), more
books on Idaho history, a decreased focus on overdue books along with a growing appreciation that sisters and guests are finding time to read, and moving the bulk of the fiction to a casual shelf on the fourth floor.

Sister Sue Ellen’s passion for the library extends from her love of learning. She has been a teacher, catechist, and tutor. Education is a value shared by her family. “My Grandpa Benjamin Jansen would say ‘education is the most valuable thing you can have. Nobody can take your education away from you.’”

Sister Sue Ellen made her First Monastic Profession on July 11, the Feast of St. Benedict, in 1991. Born in Idaho Falls, she is particularly inspired by the faith of her mother and grandmother. “They had great love for God and it showed.” As she discerned her vocation, she was assisted by her friend Father Bill Taylor who guided her in asking the right questions. When she came to St. Gertrude’s she found a resonance. “The sisters are so down-to-earth. They are human.”

In addition to working in the library, she also serves in the Development Office, works on Monastery recycling, participates in the music ministry, and is a member of the Monastery music group, the Von Gertrude Ensemble. She can often be heard cantoring at prayer and Mass.

When Sister Sue Ellen Drexler began thinking about her vocation as a teen, the idea of a life centered in prayer seemed rather boring. Now she describes the experience of missing prayer as akin to missing a meal. “If I don’t go to morning prayer, I feel weird…it’s like not going to breakfast. There’s something lacking if I don’t go. It is compassion, love for life that draws us, that makes it so we desire lectio, prayer, relationship, service.”

Sister Sue Ellen finds joy in reading and loves being a part of sharing that with others. “When you get into a book, such as really getting into a novel, there is this feeling of changing realities. I emerge rested and peaceful. I get to make that available for others. It’s also fun to see what people check out.”